Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
|Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Look, we all appreciate that there are years where the Academy Awards make some missteps, when you're not flat-out getting it wrong. You have your baffling omissions (to name two of many that come immediately to mind, no nominations for Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin or Snowpiercer, and no best picture nomination for 2001 A Space Odyssey), your debatable winners (Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare In Love? seriously?) and your ridiculous decisions (the usual list: Gandhi over E.T., Ordinary People over Raging Bull, Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction and so on and so on).
But, seriously - why was Jake Gyllenhaal not nominated for Best Actor for his incredible performance in Nightcrawler? I think it's the sort of decision that's going to look more ridiculous as the years go by. I wasn't expecting that Nightcrawler got a Best Picture nod, and thought Rene Russo would also get overlooked...but for God's sake, when stacked up against the other performances in the year, there's no competition. Like Daniel Day-Lewis's towering performances in Gangs of New York and, more aptly, There Will Be Blood, the performance is the film, and Gyllenhaal IS Nightcrawler. And you also didn't nominate Robert Elswit for his luminous nighttime cinematography either, boo.
I know, I know, in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter all that much. It's just industry people rewarding other industry people. But if the Oscars do matter up to a point, it's in the people who finance movies and get movies made, so expect a whole lot more paint-by-the-numbers biopics thanks to the multiple nominations for stuff like The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything.
Anyway, Academy, you dropped the ball this year. Fucking shape up.
Disgruntled online reviewer twat.
So, yes - Oscar or no Oscar, it doesn't change Nightcrawler's impact one iota. This is a seriously dark and beautiful piece of work that clicks whether you've seen it once or a dozen times, one that deserves to be celebrated for many years to come. Shot on an ultra-low budget (by Hollywood standards) but looking many millions of dollars more thanks to the aforementioned director of cinematography, Robert Elswit, and a fantastic production crew, Nightcrawler is a disturbing look at the diseased underbelly of Los Angeles from the perspective of a bunch of people who leech off the suffering of others and are handsomely rewarded for it.
Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) has little in the way of prospects, and few social skills, but the sort of singleminded drive and fierce intelligence that sees him worm his way into the world of nightcrawlers (apparently more commonly known as "stringers"). Armed with a hand-held camera and police scanner, Bloom prowls the L.A. nights looking to be the first on scene to film any criminal activity - be it the aftermath or as it happens - and sell it to local news stations desperate for blood and sensationalism. Bloom teams up with KWLA news director Nina Romina, who is on the verge of losing her job thanks to plummeting ratings. But she knows she's found a lifeline in the sort of startling, graphic footage that Bloom provides. Bloom's success means he can expand his enterprise, first by hiring a homeless guy named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to get him from site to site, then upgrading his equipment and wheels. He finds so much success that he's able to turn down offers of work from rival nightcrawler Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). But Bloom's ambition knows no bounds, and he has no problem with manipulating his situation to ensure that he can get the best footage possible, sending the film down some seriously dark trails.
And that's the true teeth and claws of Nightcrawler, Bloom's willingness to do whatever it takes to get the perfect shot and, boy, you'll be watching with a tremendous feeling of unease, if not outright disgust. Irrespective of the horror he's capturing - be it a car accident, fire, homicide - Bloom sets about his work with a detached coldness, the ultimate professional. The film is clear to point out that he's the quintessential sociopath. The danger here that the film is warning us about is that someone like Bloom has found an industry and an occupation that rewards his particular set of skills and ruthlessness. That is most clearly envisioned by Russo's character - she essentially tells Bloom that the best footage that sells the message of fear is that of white middle- and upper-America threatened by non-whites. Both Lou Bloom and Nina represent all that is wrong with modern news "reporting" - it's not delivering news, it's selling terror. It's people feeding off the misery of others, packaging nightmarish and graphic footage with sensationalistic titles, flashy graphics and inane newsreader commentary, all the while pretending that it's insightful journalism.
Thanks to a tight script by writer/director Dan Gilroy (which was the only fucking thing nominated by the Academy) and the phenomenal performances, there are a number of horrific - and I mean that in terms of cringeworthiness - moments that you feel will become classic scenes if they haven't already. The restaurant scene is one, which as was rightly pointed out on the commentary track feels like a perversion of the sort of scene you've seen hundreds of times before.
Everyone in Nightcrawler is a particular shade of fucked-up. There's no one to truly empathise with, meaning we turn to our lead, Lou Bloom, to at least earn our interest if not our respect. Thankfully, thanks to Gyllenhaal's mesmerising, fearless performance, we're absolutely drawn in. He's a starving wild animal, not only physically - he's so emaciated here that in certain shots he looks like a night-bound ghoul - but also professionally and emotionally. Given the character's manic energy, you have to wonder if Gilroy also meant for the character to have bipolar disorder along with the more evident sociopathy. Pitching ridiculous self-help phrases at every turn, Bloom is a product of Internet self-help groups, disengaged from reality but still able to make a living in this most unpleasant of businesses.
Nightcrawler feels like an almost perfect film. Some viewers will shake their heads in disbelief at the film's last part, or feel robbed by the ending, but I would argue that you're so invested by that point that any scripting implausibilities are rendered moot, and, no, that ending is perfect given the movie's themes. A modern urban horror film of true power, Nightcrawler proved to be too dark for the Academy's tastes, but to hell with them. Jake Gyllenhaal not only gives the performance of his career so far, but it's the sort of performance that you feel will stand the test of time, far beyond any Oscar bait role (*cough* Eddie Redmayne *cough*). Nightcrawler feels like a bleak yet perversely beautiful dream that stays with you long after it's over.